The Portuguese National Health Service has launched a new national health helpline, which will use the same technology as the NHS Direct helpline covering England and Wales.

Saúde 24 (Health 24) is the most recent initiative of the Portuguese health department and aims to provide information and advice to citizens who call in with health queries.

The Portuguese government want to extend and to improve the accessibility to the health services and have created this helpline, using the same information technology as the sorts used by England’s NHS Direct phone service.

Software for the new system is provided by Clinical Solutions, which includes a call streaming prioritisation tool so that nurses and health advisors can quickly prioritise calls, access the relevant records and provide accurate health advice

Using a bespoke clinical decision support system, staff are shown a series of questions to ask patients who phone up, based on an updated knowledge base. Staff then give the patient the guideline advice based on the software’s findings. 

Ramiro Martins, chief executive officer of Linha de Ciusados de Saúde (LCS), who run Saúde 24 told E-Health Europe: “In Portugal, the public health system is under huge pressure to be able to give patients the right information and advice as soon as possible. Our hospitals are under great pressure and doctors are fully booked and unable to help often vulnerable patients. We saw that one way of resolving these issues was to create a national helpline, which has worked so well in other countries.”

Saúde 24 will run in the same triage routine used by NHS Direct advisors at present. Trained call centre staff will initially take calls and note down a patient’s query. The issue will be weighted on a triage basis and allocated to a nurse, who will call the patient back based on the urgency of the case.

Martins added: “This will allow the Portuguese public health helpline to better manage its limited resources and allocate the correct level of care based on the assessment of each case. The technology provides staff and the Portuguese public with a valuable means of support and reference for anything from the nearest health centre to how to treat an illness.”

Clinical Solutions was selected over other healthcare providers to provide its call centre management and clinical decision support software for the health helpline based on its experience with NHS Direct.

Any resident of Portugal is entitled to free basic health care under the Portuguese Public Health System – this includes free essential medicines and GP appointments funded by payments to the social security system in the country.

Martins says the helpline will help the health system reach out to the public: “By phoning Saúde 24 on 808 24 24 24, the public can save themselves the time and hassle of waiting in the emergency wards and receive advice from the comfort of home. This will surely help to calm the concerns of many that the health service is struggling to cope with increasing numbers.”

Richard Turner, director of trade and investment in Portugal’s British Embassy said: “The new service will provide a lifeline for the Portuguese people and an invaluable resource for the Portuguese Public Health system.”

The helpline was officially opened by Portuguese Prime Minister, José Sócrates and minister of health Dr António Correia de Campos on 9 May.

Richard Craven, sales and marketing director at Clinical Solutions told EHE: “To be involved with this project from the outset is a testament to our credibility and experience in enabling the delivery of leading healthcare advice in call centres. We will be working with LCS every step of the way in implanting this helpline which we feel certain will have a positive impact on the provision of healthcare in Portugal.”


Clinical Solutions

Saude 24

NHS Direct